We cannot give what we do not have. Many of you agree. But your illuminating comments showed me it’s also true that we cannot have what we do not give. Yep, and I’ll explain that too.
First though, It’s so critical to understand the role self-love plays in devotional service I have to say more before exploring the flip side. As some of you wise sister travelers suggest—and as I watched coaching clients learn—trying to love and provide for others without loving ourselves first and last simply doesn’t work. We really, really cannot give what we do not have. Why?
Because hoping to heap on others love and attention we don’t give ourselves is like drawing water from a dry well. We pump (and pump ourselves up) to little avail since there’s just no juice to be squeezed. Sooner or later, we are bound to resent doing for others what we don’t do for ourselves. Short of self-love and renewal, we burn up and out and wonder what’s wrong with us.
Nothing is wrong with us, of course. Who wouldn’t be resentful about that sort of “selfless” service—doing for everyone but ourselves? How could that not feel compulsory, bitter and dry? No matter how noble our intentions, or how “good” our service may look, short of self-love what we’re serving up will be tainted with unhappiness, our own and that of those we hope to help.
The much revered Nobel Laureate Mother Teresa turned out to have been a bizarre and terribly telling case in point. While she seemed joyously devoted to serving the lepers and destitute multitudes of Calcutta, her letters to her confessors and superiors tell a different story. Published after her death, in the book, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, and featured in TIME magazine, those letters admitted to a deep unhappiness and hypocrisy. In August 23, 2007 TIME said:
The letters…reveal that for the last nearly half-century of her life she felt no presence of God whatsoever—or, as the book’s compiler and editor, the Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, write, “neither in her heart or in the eucharist.”
That absence seems to have started at almost precisely the time she began tending the poor and dying in Calcutta…Although perpetually cheery in public, the Teresa of the letters lived in a state of deep and abiding spiritual pain. In more than 40 communications… she bemoans the “dryness,” “darkness,” “loneliness” and “torture” she is undergoing…and…says it has driven her to doubt the existence…of God. She is acutely aware of the discrepancy between her inner state and her public demeanor. “The smile,” she writes, is “a mask…that covers everything…What hypocrisy.”
To the world’s surprise, Mother Teresa felt terrible about herself, pretended otherwise and was deeply unhappy for much of her life. But what I find most interesting is that she fell into despair at the very time she started devoting herself, exclusively it seemed, to being of service to others. My guess is she must have stopped directing her love and light (or what she’d perhaps have identified as God’s love and light) inward, in the mistaken belief she “should” focus entirely on service. However helpful her service may have been, the way she did it was not serving her.
I have learned—and continue to learn—a great deal from the contrasting spiritual role models represented by the unhappy, outwardly-oriented Mother Teresa on one hand, and my beaming reclusive Master Guru, Bapuji, on the other. Bapuji was serving, too, as my own life I hope attests. But from all we could tell, he valued service to himself and God above all else.
It’s true his meditation and prayer often yielded songs and teachings of the highest spiritual order, which he shared in writing and, for the last years of his life, aloud with us, a service to mankind if there ever was one. The difference in his service is that meditation—the one-pointed devotion to Self and God—always came first. The writing and sharing were no more (or less) than the juicy fruits of those years of days and nights alone in silence and, increasingly, in love.
Pondering all that, here’s the fruit I am coming around to: Learning to be happy with ourselves—to love, honor and nurture our dear hearts, or what I call the Self of All, may be the single greatest service we can offer the world, showering happiness on us and everyone we touch.
How we do that—and the notion that we cannot have what we do not give (any more than we cannot give what we do not have)—must wait till next time. Meanwhile, I am even more eager than usual to hear what you think, about Mother Teresa and Bapuji’s examples and, always, what you are learning about living the love we all are. To leave a few wise words of your own takes only a few minutes and makes for rich and meaningful conversation for us all. Thank you!